Ukrainian servicemen take part in brigade tactical exercises with combat shooting near Goncharivske willage, Chernihiv region, not far from the border with Russia on December 3, 2018. Tensions between Ukraine and Russia rose on November 25, 2018 when Russian forces seized three Ukranian navy vessels and their crew. Ukraine imposed martial law for 30 days in 10 regions that border Russia, the Black Sea and the Azov Sea on November 28.
SERGEI SUPINSKY | AFP | Getty Images
LONDON — If peace talks between Ukraine and Russia go nowhere and the conditions of a cease-fire are not implemented, Kiev will consider building a wall along its borders with Russia, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday.
“Ukraine will do everything in order to stop this war and achieve peace in a non-military, peaceful way. But certainly we do have a plan B,” Andriy Yermak, an aide to the president, told an audience at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.
“If we don’t see readiness from Russia to implement the Minsk Agreement or to move towards a peaceful solution with a clear cut time-frame, well in this case we’ll be building a wall,” he said.
The leaders of Russia and Ukraine are to meet in Paris on Monday in an attempt to find a peaceful resolution to the long-running conflict in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.
The meeting will also be attended by France’s President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who have previously tried to broker a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine.
Yermak said that Ukraine will attend the so-called “Normandy” format summit in Paris on Monday with goodwill, but that it would not wait “years” for Russia to implement the ‘”Minsk Agreements,” the name given to a cease-fire brokered in 2015 that had strict conditions attached.
It is unclear where the wall would be situated — encompassing the disputed Donbass region or not — but Yermak added that he didn’t want to give any further details on Ukraine’s ‘”plan B” as the government would go to Paris “with the desire and willingness to negotiate.”
“But we won’t be wasting too much time if we see that Moscow is not willing to implement the Minsk Agreements. We are not going to wait for years and if so, we’ll go for plan B,” he said.
The aide, who like his boss Zelensky has a background in TV and film production, said that Ukraine would be looking to other countries who have built walls with their neighbors.
“We do have friends and we’ll be borrowing from their experience, first of all Israel, and in this scenario I’m afraid we’ll be living in a frozen conflict,” Yermak said.
Ukraine is no stranger to border walls (or more accurately, security fences) since its dispute with Russia. After its annexation of Crimea, Russia erected a security fence of more than 60 kilometers in length along the border between Crimea and Ukraine.
The fence has hundreds of sensors and barbed wire on top. Russia completed the wall in late 2018 and said it had built it to “to prevent the penetration of raiding groups from the Ukrainian side.”
A over 60-km long fence with an alarm sensor system on the Russian-Ukrainian border near the Isthmus of Perekop.
TASS | TASS | Getty Images
Likewise, following the uprising in eastern Ukraine, the then government of Ukraine said it would build a more than 2,000 kilometer fortified defensive barrier, including trenches and infrared sensors, along the eastern border with Russia. One of the aims of the wall was to “cut off Russian support for insurgents in eastern regions” of Ukraine, said then Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Known as “Project Wall,” it has proved controversial and has been subject to a corruption probe. The completion date has been postponed to 2021.
The lifting of sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and role in a pro-Russian uprising are tied to the country fulfilling the Minsk deal.
Both sides have accused the other of breaking the agreement and a cease-fire has been fragile at best, with skirmishes continuing in the Donbass between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops.
Yermak said that the existing agreements created in 2015 needed to be updated. He said Ukraine was still willing to stick to the Minsk deal, but added his country will “do everything we can to implement the agreements in the way they exist right now.”
The conflict is now in its fifth year and has been largely characterized by clashes between separatists and the Ukrainian army. Nonetheless, 13,000 people (including civilians and combatants from both sides) have died in the conflict since 2014, according to the United Nations, and hostilities have affected 3.9 million civilians living in the region.
“The summit will be held following major progress since the summer in negotiations for a settlement in the east Ukraine conflict, progress which in particular allowed the removal of troops from several areas on the frontline,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement in November, reported by Reuters.
The summit comes amid a tentative rapprochement between Russia and Ukraine that has taken place since Zelensky came to power in May. He had made achieving a peace deal with Russia, and ending what he’s called “this horrible war,” a key part of his election manifesto. He is an inexperienced leader, however, having no background in politics.
Relations have shown signs of thawing in recent months with regular phone calls between Putin and Zelensky and prisoner swaps between the countries, plus the return of Ukrainian vessels seized by Russia in the Kerch Strait last year.
Experts say the Paris meeting might be the last opportunity for the countries to normalize relations
Christopher Granville, managing director of EMEA and Global Political Research at TS Lombard, told CNBC on Wednesday that the meeting was a “now or never” opportunity.
“There seems a reasonable chance of some progress (at the meeting), but that’s the boring answer, the more interesting answer is that I do think it’s now or never. In politics there’s always a window, there’s a moment of political capital, a honeymoon when something can be done, and Zelensky’s honeymoon is probably past its zenith, so either something is done now or the window will close.”